Just because you play a lot of games doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy and engage in other forms of media. There’s a lot to do, see, watch, and listen to — especially in 2023, where virtually every form of media is saturated with more content than has ever existed before — so sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch a Twitch stream or catch up on an audiobook series while playing an equally relaxing game.
Plenty of games do want to capture the sum total of your attention, especially brain-twisters like 2022’s fantastic Immortality and RPGs and strategy games that reward you for the brainpower you spend on the experience. Still, it’s worth looking at the best games that allow you to sit back and disengage while your brain idles over a podcast or something similar. Here are our top picks for the best games to play while listening to podcasts in 2023.
Vampire Survivors makes the list for its remarkable approachability. It’s a crossbreed between a shoot-’em-up and a roguelike, but you don’t actually need to press any buttons other than the ones that move your character around on the screen. All the shooting is automated as you try to evade, outmaneuver, and fight your way through waves of enemies – which become more numerous as time wears on. Meanwhile, defeating foes and collecting their pickups gradually rewards you with an increasing arsenal of weapons and power-ups that make your character unstoppable by the end, so you only have to pay just enough attention to avoid getting swarmed.
Vampire Survivors is free to play on iOS and Android and is also part of Xbox Game Pass. PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Mac users can also buy Vampire Survivors for $5. All PC versions of Vampire Survivors run in a windowed format, meaning you can easily play it while multitasking.
Much like Vampire Survivors, Loop Hero is a partially idle game to play in the background while doing other things. In it, the player is a godlike figure who sets up the world for the heroes to autonomously explore and adventure in. The challenge of Loop Hero comes from creating a world that is both fair to the heroes, but is challenging enough to sufficiently make them more powerful as time goes on and monsters become more deadly. It’s also a deck-building game, which means there’s some level of randomization to each of the different cards you’re able to allocate. Some decisions that seem to be fortuitous at first may present unforeseen challenges and vice versa.
This dynamic keeps Loop Hero interesting after a long session, and since your decisions play out in front of you in the form of loops rather than requiring you to directly control a protagonist, you can easily listen to a podcast or even watch a movie while playing Loop Hero in the background. It’s available for $15 on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Nintendo Switch.
Playing a casual sport like golf or racquetball, or doing a low-intensity cardio workout like walking or jogging, can pair well with listening to a podcast. But if you own a Nintendo Switch, you might also want to check out Nintendo Switch Sports, which is the underappreciated sequel to Wii Sports. It includes many of the same games, like Golf and Bowling, but it also includes plenty of new games, like Volleyball, Soccer, Badminton, Tennis, and Chambara. Although it’s incompatible with the Nintendo Switch Lite and requires a safe play space for physical activity, it’s simple enough to complement listening to a podcast or audiobook.
Nintendo Switch Sports is currently available for $40 digitally, though you may want to splurge for the $50 physical edition if you also want the leg accessory that allows you to use your actual legs to kick the virtual ball in Soccer. It’s a Nintendo Switch exclusive.
Tetris is one of the most iconic video games ever created, and it’s also a very good podcast game. This puzzle game where you align falling blocks of various shapes in neat rows, clearing them off the board before they can flow over the top of the screen, actually has positive neurological effects. According to the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, Tetris may even be an effective preventative treatment for PTSD. Any form of Tetris could keep your mind stimulated while you’re listening to something else, but Tetris 99 is special because it takes the classic formula online and pits you against 98 other anonymous players.
Tetris 99 is my personal go-to game when I’m watching a sitcom or a cheesy anime. It’s a Nintendo Switch exclusive, but it’s free to download and play for all Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. You can purchase the full version, which includes the single-player Marathon mode, for $10 from the Nintendo Switch eShop.
Minecraft lets you have your cake and eat it too, literally. It’s arguably one of the most open-ended games ever created, plopping you in the middle of a procedurally generated world made up of blocks that are modeled after things like sand, water, lava, and so forth. There are now over 63 simulated biomes that can occur anywhere in the world, and each offers wildly different sights and experiences as you explore. You can collect and repurpose almost every block in the world, and what you choose to do with these blocks is ultimately up to you. To accompany this freedom, Minecraft offers a robust crafting system that allows you to experiment with different combinations of blocks to invent new items and tools. And yes, you can even bake a cake.
Whether you’re playing Survival mode, building things in Creative, or going online with friends, Minecraft is a game that allows you the play, craft, and build infinitely at your own pace. As a result, it’s a joy to play while listening to your favorite podcasts. Minecraft: Java Edition is the most up-to-date version of Minecraft, and you can grab it on Windows, macOS, and Linux for $30 Meanwhile, the similarly priced Minecraft: Bedrock Edition (also known as Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition) is available with cross-progression and multiplayer cross-compatibility on Windows, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android devices.
No Man’s Sky is a space exploration game where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and with whomever you want. There are plenty of story-focused quests to do here, but No Man’s Sky doesn’t really pressure you into following its story after you get some of the early tutorials out of the way. Instead, it’s more interested in letting you explore its seemingly endless universe – which is said to contain 18 quintillion planets, though they’re all procedurally generated – at your own leisure. And there are a shocking number of ways to do this. Unlike other space sims, which require pristine attention to flight controls and other simulated factors, No Man’s Sky handles most of the hard work for you
That means you can drift across the nebula while tuning in to the latest episode of your favorite podcast or even listening to an entire audiobook. But you don’t have to stay in your spacecraft at all times. You can land on every single planet you see, and once you get there, you can build your own base, take a seat, and just chill out for a while. No Man’s Sky is available for $60 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch. It features full crossplay for its multiplayer and is compatible with VR headsets like Meta Quest 2, Valve Index, and the upcoming PlayStation VR2.
At its core, Fallout 4 is a post-apocalyptic action RPG mixed with first-person shooting mechanics, but its pacing is surprisingly relaxed in comparison to other RPGs. Combat encounters are fewer and further between while you’re exploring the desolate wasteland surrounding Boston and its outer regions. Each collectible item in the world doubles as a crafting resource, and Fallout 4 asks you to fill in the empty gaps between locations of interest via its settlement-building system. As such, it allows you to build up your own towns and keep your townsfolk happy through machinations that you craft and design yourself.
Those systems are what make it a surprisingly great game to play while listening to something else, despite it being an RPG. If you have a powerful enough PC to run Fallout 4 with the Sim Settlements mod, you can easily sink hundreds of hours into building up your own bases and populating them with residents, and this is a great activity to pair with auxiliary audio such as podcasts, audiobooks, TV shows, and so forth. It already features a set of in-game radio stations that turn off the soundtrack, so it’s not like you’re missing out on any key part of the experience if you choose to tune into something else.
Frankly, I’m shocked at the number of devices that can run Doom in 2023. That ability long ago wore out its welcome as a meme, but also means that this shooter should work on pretty much any gaming device in your household. Widely considered the godfather of first-person shooters, Doom holds up extremely well – though it is a bit more hectic than the other games on this list. In its favor, the gameplay is simplistic and apart from a few confusing puzzle sections here and there, it remains easy to follow while you have another source of audio playing in the background.
I find that Doom’s soundtrack gets stale after a while and prefer Mick Gordon’s work on the newer games, so I’m content with turning Doom’s audio off, whichmakes it a good podcast game for me. I recently beat the entirety of Doom while listening to Nathaniel Branden’s The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, and there was something weirdly satisfying about shooting my way through a swarm of demons while having the value of self-efficacy explained to me. It just works.
In Stardew Valley, you inherit your grandfather’s dilapidated old farm in a remote town and turn it into something of your own. It’s a farming sim that’s a lot like Harvest Moon, but it adds more depth across all of its interlocking systems. Gameplay is split across four distinct seasons, each containing 30 days. Every day is limited to a set number of hours, which pass as you complete different activities, meaning you’ll need to carefully choose which pursuits interest you the most as you reconstruct your farm and develop your relationships with the townsfolk. But since Stardew Valley never really ends, the implied time constraints only truly serve to move you forward toward your own personal goals.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is slow-paced, whether you choose to focus on growing crops, foraging for wood, fishing, or fighting monsters in the mines. In this way, Stardew Valley keeps your mind busy without overwhelming you, making it a great game to accompany a nice podcast or audiobook. It also features plenty of mods available on the PC version, which extend its longevity, though it also plays great on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation consoles. If you don’t own any gaming consoles, you can still play it on any iOS or Android device. Stardew Valley is widely available for $15.